Why Universities and Colleges Are Turning to Telehealth

With this past summer’s most recent Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the established legality of government subsidies for health insurance, those interested in what these developments mean for the student demographic and those working in the collegiate space are left with a good deal of questions. The focus of this article is to take a closer look at how the influences of the ACA affect the range of health services offered to students by college and university health plans and demonstrate the applicability of telehealth to close some of the gaps that are a result from these changes. This article is the first article in a planned series from Fonemed regarding university and college telehealth.

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campus writing school pupil write mathematics university health triage services

Increased Healthcare Coverage for Young Adults

Recent government data suggests that the national uninsured rate has dropped from 20.3% to 13.2% (May 2015). This figure includes over 14 million adults that have gained insurance since the Affordable Care Act went into effect in October 2013.

The government cites that an additional 3.4 million young adults aged 19-25, now have health insurance due to the ACA. Notably, many of these young adults benefitted from new rules within the legislation that allowed them to remain on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26. However, despite a significant increase in health insurance coverage for younger Americans, several million remain uninsured according to the Young Invincibles, a national advocacy group working to raise awareness around issues such as college costs, health insurance and debt facing young people today in America.

While few would argue that a greater number of young Americans with health insurance is not contributing towards the goal of promoting a healthier country; ample consideration should be given towards how the ACA specifically effects this population and those expected to provide them care.


While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires employer-sponsored plans to cover dependent children up to the age of 26, these plans are becoming increasingly more unitized and costly. With an increasing frequency the costs associated with these plans are being driven up through separate deductibles for each family member. A number of changes in employer health coverage and rising price tags on premiums due to the influence of the ACA are making School Health Plans (SHPs) a more desirable alternative for many students and their parents. Even with School Health Plan Premiums expected to rise, these plans can be viewed as a potentially more affordable option for comparable care. Several factors affect SHPs competitiveness in the marketplace. Namely, student health insurance is classified in a separate risk pool (as younger people are more likely to be healthier), and the collective bargaining power of multiple higher education institutions influences pricing.

More than half of the colleges in the US offer some form of a Student Health Insurance Plan (SHP). Four-year schools are more likely to offer SHPs than two-year schools and community colleges. Many of these plans are mandatory when registering for classes at an educational institution. However, school health insurance plans can often be waived when proof of other health insurance can be provided by the student.

The Accountable Care Act’s Impact on School Health Providers

Plainly stated, the Affordable Care Act requires schools offering a student health plan to significantly expand their health coverage. Today, all student plans, like all other insurance plans available (through both state and federal health exchanges and Medicaid), are now required to provide what’s called “Minimum Essential Coverage.”

The Affordable Care Act now requires schools to expand coverage to include prescription drugs and preventative care services among others. In addition to supplying material provided by American College Health Association (ACHA), there are 10 categories of health care services that school health insurance plans are now required to cover.

These “essential health benefits” include:

  • Ambulatory patient services (physician visits);
  • Emergency services;
  • Hospitalization;
  • Maternity and newborn care;
  • Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment;
  • Prescription drugs;
  • Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices;
  • Laboratory services;
  • Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management; and Pediatric services, including oral and vision care.

Additionally, student health insurance plans cannot by law discriminate against students that exhibit any pre-existing conditions. Healthcare providers must also offer free preventive care, such as birth control, HIV and STD testing, sexual assault prevention as well as depression and domestic violence screenings.

For colleges and universities offering student health plans, meeting the ACA’s requirements is posing a significant challenge for school administrators’ seeking to maintain their health programs’ compliance under the Affordable Care Act. Accommodating the ACA’s requirements places substantial financial stresses upon, in many cases, already tight budgets and thus threatens an institution’s ability to offer competitive SHP product to their students. In response to expanded coverage requirements, some campuses have begun reducing their health center hours, while others have eliminated their student health insurance plans entirely.

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campus lifestyle at university health services telehealth

College Telehealth Increasingly Connecting a Student Population to Care

Colleges and universities that wish to continue offering a health service to their community are increasingly turning to telehealth as a practical and economical means of doing so. School administrators and healthcare authorities alike are finding value in telehealth’s strengths in managing routine illnesses, allowing staff to reserve in-person care for more serious conditions. Telehealth physicians and nurses are able to address hundreds of common ailments, including allergies, bronchitis, sinusitis, sore throats, urinary tract and respiratory infections and many more using a technology nearly every student already has in their pocket – their phone.

University health services or colleges offering telehealth to their student population can provide timely virtual consultations from health care professionals via voice and video 24/7/365 from just about anywhere. For busy students, telehealth represents a convenient and affordable means to address common conditions (most non-urgent care needs) without any compromise in care quality.

Furthermore, the American Medical Association recently updated its telemedicine policy guidelines and suggested “telemedicine can strengthen the patient-physician relationship and improve access to receive care remotely, as medically appropriate, including treatment for chronic conditions, which are proven ways to improve health outcomes and reduce health care costs”.

Beyond simply expanding health center hours, universities and colleges can now leverage telehealth solutions to ensure quality care standards are met while addressing the new healthcare requirements of the ACA.  With reimbursement on the rise, the applicability of telehealth healthcare delivery for a student population is seen as a natural compliment to existing health services. Now more than ever, telemedicine’s inherent cost savings and various delivery options squarely meet the healthcare needs of tech-savvy student populations.

Telehealth Benefits for Student Populations at a Glance

  • Students can get answers to routine questions quickly and easily. Telehealth provides 24/7 direct “virtual” access top state-licensed healthcare professionals for diagnosis, treatment, referrals to specialists and prescriptions, when necessary.
  • Telehealth has been shown to be effective in preventative care and can be tied-in to wellness and behavioral health programs that support the overall health of a student population.
  • A telehealth visit is estimated to be on average 1/3 of the cost of traditional doctor’s visit and can reduce, or eliminate, travel time for busy students. Telehealth consultations not only save time and expense, but can eliminate lengthy waits for appointments.
  • Telehealth can mitigate proposed reductions in the availability of school health services due to budgetary constraints and expand their campus health services to 24/7 without additional infrastructure or personnel costs.
  • Patient electronic records can be shared with permission safely to other providers using an integrated population health management tool.
  • Piece of mind for parents that know that their child has the best access to quality care possible is priceless.

Want to Learn More About College Telehealth Services Can Expand Access to Your Student Population?

Now is the time for school administrators to review their policies and redefine them to ensure timely compliance with ACA’s new mandates and investigate university and college telehealth options for their student populations.

If you are a school health plan administrator seeking to develop new options for your students’ to gain access to care and ensure compliance with new demands placed upon your organization by the ACA, Fonemed can help. We work collaboratively with schools seeking to develop a comprehensive, integrated college telehealth offering that meets the needs of their student population and budget. Contact us today to learn more about how a partnership with Fonemed can bring the benefits of nurse advice line and telemedicine to your organization.